United States

United States

New hurdles loom in California -- Bird and bat guidelines

A unanimous California Energy Commission (CEC) vote in September that approved voluntary guidelines for protecting bats and birds from wind turbines may end up opening a costly can of worms. Not only are the guidelines based on flawed bird and bat studies (Windpower Monthly, December 2006), but they are also something other than voluntary, says Nancy Rader of the California Wind Energy Association.

"You don't have to follow them but, at a minimum, you'll have to explain why you didn't follow them, and that's a very tall order," Rader says. "These guidelines will require more studies than are necessary and will keep developers from investing in the state."

Rader adds that the guidelines can be applied retroactively and are likely to be introduced as state-sanctioned recommendations in courts of law, which could create expensive and cumbersome hurdles for wind power as California strives to reach its renewables portfolio standard (RPS) goal of 20% clean electricity by 2010. "We have companies saying their projects are being threatened by these guidelines and these are projects we need to meet the 2010 RPS goals," she says. "Nobody should be expected to explain why they don't abide by guidelines that didn't exist at the time they did their initial studies."

The guidelines provide information for satisfying the California Environmental Quality Act, along with state and federal wildlife laws, the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and state and federal endangered species acts. They were designed to deal with local and regional issues, along with site-specific conditions to accommodate frequency and type of bird and bat use, terrain and availability of scientific data from nearby sources.

Not a big deal

Others, meanwhile, are reacting with measured caution. "We're not making a big deal out of it because it's voluntary," says Doug Anthony, an official for the County of Santa Barbara, where a 120 MW wind project by Spain's Acciona could begin construction next spring. "We appreciate any guidelines and it's great that the state has done something. But we issue our own permits under our own jurisdiction," he adds.

There will be an impact, says Mike Azeka of power company AES, has more than 1000 MW of wind power in the US. "Especially in the areas where a county doesn't require as extensive an analysis as some of these other areas that are either more sensitive or are much, much less familiar with wind energy." Virginia-based AES generates electricity in 28 countries and entered the wind business in 2004. Most of its California interests are in Riverside County, which includes parts of the expansive San Gorgonio wind complex near Palm Springs. Riverside, with its considerable experience of wind power, has formally asked the CEC that it be exempt from the guidelines. Azeka says the CEC's response to that request was that it is not appropriate for the CEC to include or exclude anybody because these are voluntary guidelines instead of a formal permitting process.

Rader, however, believes trouble is brewing. "You can't be loading on inappropriate research requirements to every wind project in the state," she says. "Whatever California does, other states will pick up and run with and that makes it even more worrisome. The industry needs to pay attention because it's likely to come to a town near you."

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